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Langano, Downtown Silver Spring - Ethiopian on Georgia and Thayer Avenue


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15 years ago, when I was an undergrad at GW, Zed's was where I went.

Then I discovered Adams Morgan, and until I moved to the burbs, Fasika's and Meskerem became my regular haunts.

About 4 years ago, I discovered Langano in Silver Spring, and that's where I've had most of my Ethiopian feasts recently. I know the U St. corridor is supposed to be the best these days, but I just haven't made it there yet. I do go to the AFI Silver theater frequently, so Langano is very convenient.

However, last night before catching a film at the AFI, I went again to Langano. Maybe it was just me, but I thought everything seemed off (except for the injera, which was great as usual.) Wats didn't seem as spicy as they've been in the past. Collards and other vegetable dishes just didn't have the same kick they used to. The lentil dishes, which are usually so interestingly spiced, seemed bland. The lamb was actually chewy, not tender.

Rocks, I know you've recommended Langano in the past - been there recently? I tried to ask one of the servers if the chef had changed recently, but didn't get a straight answer.

So where SHOULD I be going?

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Has anyone on the board tried Addis Ababa, on Fenton Street in Silver Spring? It has a covered rooftop dining area that looks inviting.

No, but we've been to the other Ethiopian place in Silver Spring on Georgia, Langano, which is good, but not great. And the A/C seems to always "be fixed tomorrow". Prices are right, though.

We were actually thinking of trying Addis Ababa tonight, so I'll report back if we do.

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I'm convinced that because I don't eat Ethiopian more than a few times a year, I'm not used to the injera, and that causes each little air bubble to act like it comes with it's own microscopic pneumatic pump, resulting in the injera quintupling in size after I swallow it, with me invariably becoming full after about twenty bites of food.

Several years had passed since I'd last been to Langano (*), and it hasn't changed a bit. This evening, I saw about 40 customers total during my time there, and I was most likely the only non-Ethiopian in the restaurant. (Next door, Lucy, no doubt named after this young lady, had a more vibrant and convivial dynamic that almost surely snowballed by attracting foot traffic.)

After the staff convinced themselves I wasn't an inspector from the Department of Liquor Control - which took some doing, as I stood out like a sore thumb - service could not have been nicer. Without a single exception, the bar acted as a dividing line between genders, with the women behind, serving, and the men in front, drinking and watching soccer.

There's something about dining in an ethnic restaurant that compels me to order beers from that country - Singha in Thai restaurants, Tsing Tao in Chinese restaurants - even though they're often made for export, and don't really enhance the authenticity of the experience. But as this light genre goes, I like St. George Lager ($5.75), primarily because of a slight maltiness, and also because I rarely see it elsewhere. If you enjoy beer, give this a go - it's only 4.5% alcohol, and won't hit you over the head.

Despite the DC area being one of the strongest Ethiopian pockets in the country, only two out of the three potential joys of eating Ethiopian are usually realized by diners - 1) being young and indoctrinated for the first time, or 2) being in a group of several people at a jovial table. For a solo diner at the bar, the third joy - 3) becoming immersed in really good cooking, happens on occasion, but not nearly often enough - there are a fair amount of very ordinary Ethiopian restaurants in this area.

Vegetables are often mehgetables, straight off a Sysco truck, and Langano's Vegetable Combination ($12.75) was no exception. Nominally served with gomen, salad, shiro, lentils, cabbage, collards, and azifa, this generous platter had some of these things, but was really just ten little piles of whatever they had, including beets and carrots. If you think about it, at $12.75, these are going for $1.27 per dollop, meaning the food cost is probably about 40 cents per pile - when you break it down to these terms, it's really hard to find any fault. The beets and carrots were the best two items on the plate, followed by the cabbage and gomen; I really struggled with one item that may have been shiro, but it came across more like somewhat harsh, dry, refried pinto beans that had been sitting out and congealing.

I'll tell you what, though: really good injera, made with teff (and I'm thinking of the version I last had at Meaza), would have brightened up this cooking a fair amount. If I were to come back to Langano, I'd try to convince the staff that I was a serious diner, and ask them to recommend a meat dish. Sampler platters are a nice introduction (and this one properly took a good twenty minutes to arrive), but manually combining single dishes is usually the best way to go, certainly when you're in a group - each Ethiopian restaurant has its own strengths, and I didn't take the proper time to find out about Langano's.

(*) Langano is named after Lake Langano, in the Oromia region (there are nine regions) of Ethiopia, about 200 km south of Addis Ababa. This sprawling region, shaped like the number "7," borders a remarkable 8 of the 9 (**) Ethiopian regions.

(**) Yes, I know, it conjures up a child's joke.

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